By MICHAEL AUSHENKER | Contributing Writer
Open for 22 years, Vincenti’s has been the Brentwood Italian restaurant; the quintessential establishment in the heart of the community with old-school sensibilities, conjoined with a modern upscale fine-dining decor.
That Brentwood stretch of San Vicente Boulevard is well-known for its high-end Italian fare (Toscana and Pizzicoto are just down the street), but what sets Vincenti’s apart from those and other formidable competitors is an earnestness and authenticity that no parent restaurant group—no matter what their marketing budget—could ever manufacture: a reputation borne by word of mouth.
Just as delicious and filling as the cuisine here is the back story on how Vincenti’s came to be (and no, it is not named after its street address). Maureen Vincenti, the eatery’s matronly hands-on chief owner, stops by her establishment daily to kibbitz with regulars, of which they were legion and loyal on the packed Monday night I dropped by.
Maureen began her career in the industry with husband Mauro Vincenti, pioneering owner of Rex il Ristorante in downtown Los Angeles. Mauro, who had arrived in Los Angeles after a career in Italy as a cinematographer, had preceded his famed Rex il with a quaint, long-running spot called Mauro’s in Glendale, which, Maureen told the Palisadian-Post, he opened because, at the time, the only Italian restaurants were insulting, red-and-white tableclothed clichés.
After Mauro passed away of a long illness in 1996, Maureen closed the Rex and relocated to Brentwood. Right before he died, Mauro had advised Maureen to open Vincenti in Brentwood and bring with her Chef Gino Angelini and his disciple, Nicola Mastronardi, both of whom Mauro had brought to America from Rimini, Italy, to kick-start the new chapter in the Vincenti family history. Mauro said that Angelini should oversee the kitchen for three years, then leave the house in Mastronardi’s deft hands.
Sure enough, right after Angelini left to open his famed Osteria, Mastronardi became Vincenti’s executive chef at Vincenti’s, where he still cooks today. Vincenti’s has since won numerous accolades from such famed foodies as Jonathan Gold and S. Irene Virbila.
In 2016, none other than Rick Caruso took over as landlord of her building and assisted Vincenti’s and the building’s other two other tenants in a refurbishing. The resulting tenant improvements at Vincenti’s are stunning; with a cozy, neo-classical Italian sheen that would no doubt attract Caruso—himself a Brentwood resident—to dine at the trattoria.
And foodwise, with good reason, as I discovered when I kicked off this parade of deliciousness with a tasty bowl of Lattuga, butter lettuce warm polenta croutons, Parmigiano and light anchovy dressing.
The presentation was nice, but it was quickly topped by the Polpettine plate—an attractive set of meatballs (a beef-turkey-pork mix) with fresh fava beans and pecorino.
The salad and meatballs were just a small glimpse of the quality to come as I headed into entrée territory. Pasta here looms large and there is plenty to be had, from the Taglioni (which comes with Manila clams) to the Tagliatelle.
Not listed on the menu, the Lasagne Spinaci was one of the daily specials, which proved staple-worthy; an excellent take on a traditional favorite; this mouthwatering collaboration of ground beef and pasta busy with fried spinach leaves showered all over it. Absolute divinity.
Monday was pizza night, so pie was on. Vincenti’s has an array of woodfire-cooked pizzas: crispy crusted affairs that can feed at least two and coming as everything from your classic Margherita cheese pie to the Blanca (white pizza with artichokes) and Porcini (porcini mushrooms with Mozzarella and black truffles), to the one I ordered, the Salsiccia, replete with house-made sausage, potatoes and onions. The melted Mozzarella atop those potato slices reminded me of Mom’s potatoes au gratin, and you’d deny yourself of a delicious opportunity not to order one of the pies with your meal.
Speaking of French cuisine, for dessert (and all of the house’s desserts are made in this kitchen), I went with a clear winner, Mille Foglie, which is essentially the Italian version of France’s mille-feuille. The perfect marriage of flaky pastry with sweet and creamy, this decadent, meal-capping treat—a bountiful plate’s worth of deconstructed puff pastry and pastry cream with candied hazelnuts and caramel—made the perfect match for my cup of cappuccino by evening’s end, ending my Vincenti experience on the highest of notes.
Rich and textured in both palate and history, Vincenti’s is more than just a fine-dining restaurant, it’s a living narrative.